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Man’s Best Friend: Banned from the Brewery

Brewers and customers outraged after Florida cracks down on canines in breweries

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This story has been updated.

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Beer drinkers might be in for a surprise the next time they head to their local brewery or bottle shop—their canine friends aren’t allowed.

Dogs have become as common a sight in breweries as IPAs, but a rarely enforced Florida Administrative Code is putting the practice to an end. Jacksonville Beach-based brewery, Green Room Brewing, brought attention to the issue in a Facebook post Thursday.

The rule, Florida Administrative Code 64E-11.008 (8), states:

"Live birds and animals–No live birds or animals except for crustacea, shellfish and fish in aquariums shall be allowed in a food service establishment, in vehicles used for transporting food or in any other area or facility used to conduct food service operations; except as provided under Section 413.08, F.S."

While most breweries don’t sell food, the same code defines food as “any raw, cooked, or processed edible substance, ice beverage or ingredient used or intended for use in whole, or in part, for human consumption.”

In other words—beer.

“It does suck that people can’t bring their furry friends anymore,” Mark Stillman, the owner of Green Room Brewing, told Folio Weekly. “Most places don’t allow them already, so why not have a place where you can drink a couple beers and have a good time with them?”

He responded by starting a petition on Change.org that has attracted more than 14,000 signatures at the time of publication.

“We got the notice on Monday and it took me a minute to decide what to do,” Stillman said. “We tried to look for ways around it, but it didn’t look like they would go well, so we felt it was time to let the public know. So we made the petition but we’re also encouraging people to call their state officials and the Health Department.”

Stillman also contacted local officials to request a variance, a waiver that allows a business or property owner to use their establishment in a way not typically allowed by zoning ordinances. He says he was told he couldn’t.

Surprisingly, the code has been in-effect since 1998, but enforcement has been scarce, if existent at all. Folio Weekly contacted the Florida Department of Health to ask why the agency has begun to cite breweries now, after 20 years of the law being on the books, among other questions. Today, FDOH Press Secretary Brad Dalton responded, saying in an email, "There is no current push for enforcement. The Duval County Health Department sent out a letter as a reminder to all restaurants and bars in that county."

“We’ve never had any [health department] pushback and I didn’t even realize that code was there,” Dennis Espinosa, owner of Main and Six Brewing Company in Springfield, said.

Espinosa believes the enforcement will have an impact on his business as people won’t travel as far to a brewery or won’t stay out-and-about as long.

“People that maybe live in St. Augustine or the Jax Beaches might not want to leave their dog at home for such a long time, so it might be tough for them to make it out to Springfield,” Espinosa said.

“Why now? Why retroactively enforce this when it’s going to hurt so many places?” said Kevin Burns, owner of Beer:30, a craft beer bottle shop and bar in San Marco.

Burns said he was aware of the code but doesn’t understand why the county and state have never enforced it until now.

Beer:30 is no stranger to dogs. The establishment has been dog friendly since its opening and Burns’ golden retriever, Maisie, is often seen greeting customers and playing with her canine friends.

“It’s so beneficial and interactive for places to have dogs,” Burns said. “Knowing your dog is going to run into their dog friend like you do your own friend, it’s great.”

“People feel comfortable when they see dogs in public settings,” Espinosa added. “Having the ability to have a dog in public brings that environment to the next level for people to say ‘whoa, this place is rad.’ It adds layer and texture to those businesses and yeah, this just really sucks.”

Having a patio, which dogs are allowed on according to the code, does little to help businesses when Florida is so hot and rainy, Espinosa explained.

“It sucks in the immediate, but it’s really shown how collectively most places are on the issue and how we want to run our businesses,” Burns said. “We’re a proactive bunch.”

Industry professionals aren’t the only individuals expressing concern over the ban’s enforcement.

“Breweries just feel different—they feel like a community, very local, and I think part of that is their atmosphere can be attributed to dogs,” said Lauren Collie, a local dog owner and brewery patron.

This community extends beyond beer or breweries though, according to Collie. She believes having a canine companion opens the door to new friendships and conversations.

“People ask me if they can pet her and we get to talking, others tell me about their dog at home, she's a great ice breaker,” Collie added. “Fun fact, the bartenders at Aardwolf know my dog by name but not mine. My tab is probably under ‘Moxie.’”

Collie said she would take Moxie, her nine-year-old dachshund, with her everywhere if she could. Breweries are one of her limited options for this and an enforcement of the ban would encourage her to go to a bar that sells liquor instead, she said.

That enforcement has begun.

Several Jacksonville breweries and bottle shops began announcing Thursday they would no longer be able to allow dogs. Both brewers and their customers were dismayed by the change.

“The good is that people have responded strongly,” Stillman said of the public’s reaction to his petition. “The bad is that we need a lot of people to respond and act.”

Stillman believes the state could make an administrative decision to legally offer exceptions to establishments classified as breweries or beer-only businesses. But, with potential fines or license suspensions facing those in non-compliance, he understands it’s a difficult battle.

“Things like this, along with big beer constantly putting pressure on tap rooms and craft beer, it’s just the typical big guy versus the little guy.”

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